As much as I love Rugby James, trust me….no one wants a dog like him. They really don’t. This is why he was recycled through so many previous homes. No one wants a dog like him. Without exception, everyone says he’s the cutest dog they’ve ever seen. That’s what got him adopted from the shelter. His wacky behavior is what got him returned.
So sometimes I get asked by clients if purebred dogs really are better dogs than mixed breeds. Aren’t all dogs alike? Isn’t a dog a dog?
When I was a kid, only rich people got purebred dogs. Regular people, like my family, got shelter dogs, or kept a stray that wandered into their yard, or maybe got a free puppy from someone’s unwanted litter. There was always a big debate about which dogs were better….purebred or mixed breeds.
Today’s “designer dogs” which are intentional mixed breeds, were the “mutts” of yesterday. Any Poodle which accidentally bred with a Labrador Retriever would have been cause for embarrassment to the owners, and those puppies would have been given away because they weren’t purebred. Now, breeders charge hundreds and thousands of dollars for these mixed breed puppies. Various types of “Doodle dogs” have become the new rage, and I probably train more “Doodles” than just about any other breed of dog these days.
Let’s face it, all dogs are going to have some similar physical and behavioral traits that will set them aside as a species that we know as a dog. That will be universal. But beyond those basic traits, there can be huge differences between individual breeds and/or mixed breed dogs. Those differences can be physical, but, they can just as easily be temperamental.
Dogs like Rugby can be bred, but they can also be created by breeders and owners who don’t have a clue about what is really involved in creating a healthy, stable dog. Improper diet for Mama or puppies who are being weaned and raised in those critical first weeks can cause incorrect brain development. Unfortunately, dogs end up being at the mercy of the humans who run the world, and sometimes that means they don’t get the good end of life as we know it.
Temperaments really do carry through a given blood line, so dogs who are more edgy or high strung can be bred. Many breeds are high strung….Shelties, Boxers, many Terriers, Vizslas, Pointers, etc. It’s not a unique trait in the dog world. Some of that tension is good to help dogs effectively do the jobs that they are bred to do. However, when an owner has no idea what they are getting in that dog, problems can really erupt…especially when the owners don’t enlist the help of a professional dog trainer!
People tend to think that as long as they get their dog as a young puppy, they can mold that puppy and everything will come out just fine as long as they raise him well. In some cases, that will be absolutely true. However, the breeding behind that puppy carries forward far more than you’d guess, as well as the formative early weeks of development!
Getting a puppy at a shelter, doesn’t guarantee that it will grow up and have a stable temperament. Because temperaments can be bred into dogs, when you get a mix without knowing the parents, or the specific breeds, you can have a surprise if the parents weren’t stable or sweet. Getting a puppy at eight to ten weeks doesn’t mean that a shelter puppy got exactly the same things that a purebred dog coming from a quality breeder got. Socially, those dogs are worlds apart, and I don’t just mean on the pedigree!
Early socialization is so very important, and so many folks just don’t understand that. It honestly can be a deal breaker on some dogs believe it or not. So many purebred dogs that I train come from breeders who may not be an absolute “puppy mill,” in the sense that the dogs are treated humanely, and well cared for. However, many of those breeders haven’t provided all of the socialization that their puppies needed from five weeks until adoption. That can make things very difficult for the puppy, his new owners, and it can result in the puppy going back to the breeder or the puppy going to a new home or shelter/rescue group.
Socialization carries on once a puppy goes to his new home, and should honestly continue well into adulthood. Many people think of socializing their young puppies, but as they grow, if the puppies are too rowdy and owners can’t control them, guess what? Those dogs stay home in a fenced back yard, and never learn how to cope with life. Adolescence is a really weird stage in a dog’s life, and like human teenagers, puppies push their boundaries and all sorts of weird things can emerge. It’s really critical that those dogs work through those stages so that they can be happy, well adjusted adult dogs. And that means continued socialization as part of the package.
The bottom line is that you’re more likely to get a stable, predictable dog if you buy a puppy from a very high quality breeder. However, that means carefully shopping for the breeder, and it may mean waiting for a litter to come along. Keep in mind that many purebred dogs are plagued with various health issues that jeopardize their length and quality of life. Mixed breed dogs can sometimes be healthier because of the variety of the gene pool, but you will have some unknown factors with shelter dogs, simply because you won’t know their backgrounds. Mixed breed dogs will follow some of the behavior traits that make up their breeding, so you can have a decent idea of what to expect in your mixed breed dog.
I highly recommend professional training with all dogs, because the expertise a professional trainer can provide to you will be invaluable in helping you navigate the various stages of your dog’s life. Early training and socialization can prevent a dog from having a life that is handicapped like Rugby’s. By all rights, he should be a stable dog that is able to cope with change and enjoy his big world. And even though I love him to the moon and back, I would never wish for another dog to be so anxious and worried about life. Careful early shaping could have created a very different Rugby, so investing in a good quality, experienced, positive reinforcement trainer is an investment in the quality of your dog’s life as well.